12/21/2013 7:00 AM
By Katelyn Parsons D.C. Correspondent
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Prince George’s County, Md., cushioned next to Washington, D.C., is generally considered to be an urban area. However, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the county’s farmers had $18 million in sales. The county and region is favorably positioned to take advantage of the $26 billion family food budget in the nearby metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
“We’ve seen an increased interest from both residents and nonresidents who want to farm in Southern Maryland,” said Janna Howley, University of Maryland faculty Extension assistant and Extension specialist in agricultural marketing, who was reached before a recent workshop, “Finding Land to Feed the Local Food Movement.”
“We realize that there isn’t an easy way for new and beginning farmers to gain access to land. Many lack the knowledge of how to determine whether a parcel is good for a particular crop, how to find funding to start or expand a venture, or whether the land is zoned for growing food or raising animals, which is why we held a workshop.”
The workshop was Dec. 5 at Prince George’s County Soil Conservation District office in Upper Marlboro, Md.
“The National Young Farmers Coalition completed a survey of beginning framers where they studied challenges entering the farming industry,” said Greg Bowen, Maryland FarmLINK director. “Gaining access to land was the main challenge mentioned, in particular because most beginning and new farmers did not grow up on a farm and therefore lack the connections that more established farmers have to gain access to farmland.”
The University of Maryland Extension recognized the issue and began searching for ways to assist beginning and new farmers in gaining access to farmland.
“During this workshop, the University of Maryland Extension Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission gave new and beginning farmers the tools they need to identify and negotiate parcels of land for farming.” Howley said. “We hope that the workshop helped make the process of leasing or buying agricultural land a little less difficult.”
The workshop gave participants multiple perspectives.
“We provided multiple perspectives on what it’s like to be a farm landlord, a realtor’s perspective with suggestions for what to look for in an agricultural property, and offered in-person and online resources to help connect farmers with farmland,” Howley said.
Organizers hope these perspectives, coupled with a lesson on leasing and buying farmland, gave participants the background they need to begin their farming venture.
“The workshop participants looked at soil maps, zoning guidelines and learned about loans/grants that might be able to assist them,” Howley said.
One tool discussed was an online resource called FarmLINK.
“Maryland FarmLINK helps Maryland farmers sell, buy or lease agricultural land,” Bowen said. “Generally, farmland moves quickly on this site. The website also allows farmers to connect directly with other FarmLINK members to ask advice, find an online mentor, request an on-farm mentor, or find a business partner or apprentice.”
Thanks to a USDA grant, mentoring for beginning farmers is now available.
“Many farmers who have been farming for generations have their family to ask advice from,” Bowen said. “Beginning and new farmers may have taken some classes and want to get into the business, but still have big questions that they can’t get answered. Through a USDA grant that was awarded to the University of Maryland Extension and affiliates, we are now able to offer a small stipend for some mentors to serve as a guide to these beginning farmers.”
The workshop concluded with a networking opportunity for landlords who were present and farmers looking to lease or buy land.
For more information on FarmLINK, please visit http://www.smadc.com.